BENTON HARBOR — NoBo Michigan broke ground Friday not only as the first medical marijuana facility in Benton Harbor, but as the company’s Midwest headquarters.

“This is going to be a great thing for the city of Benton Harbor,” said Bill Stohler, director of NoBo Michigan. “We really appreciate your support.”

Besides creating an anticipated 65 jobs, NoBo is putting back on the tax rolls the land at 900 Alreco Road, where a former aluminum smelting company once stood.

Stohler said the city offers the company logistic advantages and is a city on the move.

“Benton Harbor currently has the fastest growing tax base in Berrien County, and we want to be part of that,” he said Friday.

The company plans to start its operations in the 33,000-square-foot former maintenance building on site, which they have gutted over the past few weeks. Stohler said there is ample room to expand the business on the 11-acre site.

City Commissioners Ron Singleton and Edward Isom said this wouldn’t have happened without City Commissioner MaryAlice Adams.

“She was a bulldog on it,” Singleton said after Friday’s ceremony. “The only time she let up was to get a better grip.”

City commissioners were initially divided on the issue. They voted 5-4 in August 2017 to express interest in allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, with Mayor Marcus Muhammad voting against it.

At the time, Muhammad said he couldn’t see himself ever supporting medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Since then, he said he did some research, spoke with the city’s attorney and decided to support it.

“The state of Michigan is also embracing the industry. It takes time.” Muhammad said the groundbreaking served as an example of how Benton Harbor is open for business. “We’re willing and ready to work with those who wish to come and invest in our great city.”

Singleton, a former police officer, said he also had to do some research before deciding to support medical marijuana facilities in the city.

In the end, he said he learned medical marijuana can help people while helping the city grow its tax base. Plus, Singleton said marijuana isn’t as bad as some of the other drugs out there.

“As a police officer, dealing with somebody who is using alcohol and somebody that was using marijuana, I would take the marijuana any day,” he said. “They’re more calm.”

In addition, Singleton said he feels marijuana is safer to use than opioids.

He said he’s seen a dozen or so people die from an opioid overdose, but no one from a marijuana overdose.

Adams said the fight for medical marijuana started with her daughter, who started having seizures as a teen about 20 years ago and lost her battle with epilepsy last year at the age of 33.

In the mid-2000s, Adams said she saw a television news report about a woman who moved to Colorado so her daughter could get medical marijuana to control her seizures.

“I kept up with it and saw this baby healing,” she said. “I saw the cannabis working to control this baby’s seizures. And I’m like, we shouldn’t have to go across country to get it. It should be available to all of us. So I just started fighting. And I’ve been fighting for years.” 

Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski said the last time any taxes were collected through the property was 2011. NoBo officials have said they expect to invest $6 million in the property. Once that’s done, Witkowski said the company will pay about $175,000 a year in property taxes.

Stohler previously said he expects the company to start hiring people in November, with the first crop of marijuana ready to be harvested by early 2020.

Human resources will be handled by Higher Staffing and Recruiting Services of Benton Harbor, which is owned by Benton Harbor native Gwen Swanigan, who also operates the nonprofit S.H.A.R.P. Foundation (Society Harmonizing Against Racial Profiling).

Swanigan said anyone interested in a job can contact her via email at higherstaffing@outlook.com or by calling 588-3190.

City commissioners approved the special land use permit Monday, which is required for the medical marijuana business under the city’s zoning ordinance. That included approval for three medical marijuana licenses – two for Class C growers and one for a processing center. The company can grow up to 1,500 marijuana plants for each Class C growers license it receives.

The application now goes to the state for final approval. 

Stohler said the company will submit an application for a provisioning center at a later date.

Alan Bonsett is the founder and CEO of NoBo Michigan. He is also the founder/president of NoBo Inc. and CEO at GroRay Lighting Technologies, both in Boulder, Colo.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect phone number for Higher Staffing and Recruiting Services.